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I’m a bit of a coffee addict. At my local Dunn Brothers coffee shop, they know which breakfast sandwich I like right down to the Swiss cheese and that I’m a fan of light roast. They also know I arrive around 6 a.m. with a look that says, “Help me — I need caffeine right now.”

It’s not that I’m drowsy. It takes a few cups before I’m in full work performance mode. That’s why it surprised me so much when I backed out of a parking spot after being fully caffeinated, wide awake for hours, and ready to tackle the rest of the morning without looking as much as usual for cross-traffic. Honestly, I’ve become a hypervigilant driver. I usually look once, then twice, then a third time just to be on the safe side.

I think even the car itself was surprised when I didn’t look as thoroughly. Fortunately, I was driving a 2017 VW Passat, the model with a V6 engine with the technology package that costs $29,295 (the base price is $22,440). New sensors that are constantly looking all around the vehicle noticed a passing car, driving way too fast behind me from left to right. An audible alarm sounded, I pressed the brakes, and everyone was fine. No harm, no foul.

Yet it was irritating — not because the car failed to do its job, but because we’re not living in an age of AI and connected cars. For now, these sensors — which you can see visually in the touchscreen display when something comes too close to the car, represented as radiating pulses similar to the Wi-Fi radio icon you see on a Windows 10 laptop — are one-directional. They see an object, you get a warning. In the near future, a car like the Passat would have already known there was another car in the Dunn Brothers parking lot.


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Here’s how the AI would have helped. At least a block away, sensors in the parking lot would identify the car and start tracking it. This is not a privacy issue. It’s like tracking a car today when you pull up to a stoplight (the pads built into the road), just with more intelligence. The AI will track every car’s location in real time. If that junky old Malibu that almost hit me started accelerating close to the Passat, I’d know about it long before I had to start braking.

The next steps after this are even more interesting. Someday, automated cars will brake and accelerate in perfect unison. The Malibu would not have this tech unless someone added it as an aftermarket kit. That’s not impossible at all, considering there are devices like the Navdy that already provide services like text-to-speech and navigation for older cars. We need to reach the point where cars don’t even need sensors that alert you to other cars, because the other car would slow down automatically. I’d pull out because the AI would determine that I had the right of way based on the fact that the AI in the other car made it drive at a sane speed.

Multiply this scenario out to every parking lot, every intersection, highways all over the world. It’s not autonomous driving that will prevent accidents. It’s not even the sensors in the car, or the pedestrian detection, or the adaptive cruise control. It’s an AI that knows the location of every car and truck and can optimize traffic, instruct the local AI in each car to adjust speeds, and create a vast car network that runs as smoothly as a fine-tuned network server.

Don’t laugh at that too much — yes, servers still crash. But the intelligence in a car network, aided perhaps by a human agent in a car traffic control center, will definitely reduce fender-benders in parking lots and help tremendously on the highway.

My hope is that this scenario becomes a reality soon. I’ve become a little impatient about progress lately, although I appreciate the fact that the Passat saved me from an accident.

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